The most frightening crimes that happened on Christmas

Christmas is about many things. Spending time with family and friends. Showing kindness to everyone around you, even the people who are strangers. If you're a spiritual person, perhaps you enjoy celebrating your religious beliefs with others who also share them. Nearly everyone has the day off and gets to relax. There's even food and presents.

Christmas is the one day a year where people are mostly decent to each other. It's a special day where humanity proves that sometimes it's not all bad. At least on the surface.

Christmas Day is just another day on the calendar, and bad things can happen to you any time. There's a reason why emergency services don't get the day off too — the world doesn't stop just because it's December 25th. Accidents happen, people get sick, and yes, crimes are committed. In fact, some incredibly horrifying crimes have been perpetrated during the holiday season.

A child pageant winner was murdered

In the hours between December 25 and 26, 1996, JonBenét Ramsey, a 6-year-old child beauty pageant winner, went missing from her own home in Boulder, Colorado, according to CNN. The next morning, her parents found a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her return. The Ramseys called the police, who found no evidence of forced entry. While searching the house for clues as to how someone kidnapped JonBenét, John Ramsey made a terrible discovery — his daughter had been murdered and her body was abandoned in the basement.

JonBenét was found to have died by strangulation and had a skull fracture. Police initially suspected John and Patricia Ramsey of killing their own child and staging the ransom note to cover up the crime, according to History. However, after a very public investigation of the two, they didn't find enough evidence to prove this theory and cleared the Ramseys as suspects. 

They then focused on another possibility — an intruder who snuck into the house during the night, intending to kidnap JonBenét but accidentally killing her instead, at which point the intruder fled. This approach, too, has proven to be vexing, and the investigation has since stalled. To this day, the case has never been solved.

Innocent children were trampled when someone shouted fire

Everyone loves a good Christmas party, unless you're a super introvert and want to spend the evening at home watching Christmas movies instead. Many jobs even offer company Christmas parties each year, which you may or may not be excited about depending on how you feel about your co-workers.

It was at a party just like this on Christmas Eve, 1913 that one of the deadliest mining-related accidents in American history occurred, and it didn't even happen in a mine. The miners at Calumet & Hecla Mining Company in what would become Calumet, Michigan had been striking for five months, so their union put together a sort of unofficial Christmas party for the miners and their families. They met at Italian Hall in Calumet, a space perfect for just such a gathering. More than 600 people packed into its second story ballroom to spread some holiday cheer, according to mLive.

Unfortunately, things turned into a nightmare when someone shouted, "Fire!" The second story of the building had one very narrow staircase and no emergency exits. Attendees streamed toward the stairs, causing a stampede. 73 people died, the majority of them children. There was no fire, and the person who made the false claim was never identified. While some miners and union officials suspected it was someone involved with mine management or an anti-unionist, this was never proven.

A sharecropper killed his whole family for mysterious reasons

On December 25, 1929 in Germanton, North Carolina, the Lawson family was having a peaceful Christmas. Charlie Lawson, a sharecropper, had gotten enough money together to take his wife and seven children out to buy new clothes and even had family photos taken — a pretty good Christmas considering the Great Depression had begun earlier the same year.

But then, something no one could have predicted happened, and historians and researchers still don't completely understand it — Charlie decided, for reasons unknown, to kill his entire family. He shot two of his younger daughters as they were leaving to visit their aunt and uncle, according to the Greensboro News & Record. He then shot his wife, who was sitting on the front porch, went inside and killed his oldest daughter and younger two sons, and finally murdered his infant daughter last. Afterward, he went into the nearby woods and committed suicide.

You might have noticed Lawson only killed six of his seven children. For equally mysterious reasons, Charlie sent his oldest son, Arthur, on an errand right before he began the killing. No motive was ever determined for the killing, nor were his reasons for sparing Arthur. One rumor alleges Charlie was molesting his oldest daughter, Marie, and she was pregnant. Thus, he killed his family out of shame and guilt. This hasn't been proven, however, and Marie was not noted to be pregnant during her autopsy.

A young man dismembered his aunt's boyfriend in a rage

Housing can be tough to find for a student, especially in the last several years, and while Christmas may be about goodwill toward those around you, sometimes a situation is simply not sustainable. This was the situation 18-year-old Alexis Valdez found himself in on Christmas Day, 2013. Valdez had been staying with his aunt and her boyfriend, Silvestre Diaz-Hernandez, who allowed him to live in their apartment as long as he remained in school, worked, and helped out with the bills, according to CBS Chicago.

At some point, though, Valdez quit school and his job and wasn't upholding his part of the bargain any longer. His aunt and her boyfriend decided to ask him to leave. It was bad timing, seeing as it was Christmas, but Valdez seemed to take it extra hard considering what happened next.

He confronted his aunt's boyfriend and things quickly turned violent. In his anger, Valdez killed Diaz-Hernandez with a hammer, mutilated his body by removing all of his limbs, and then decapitated him (also disfiguring his face in the process), leaving his head in Valdez's aunt's bed. He later described this as a "present." Valdez called police and told them exactly what happened and fully admitted to the murder when police arrived. They found him covered in blood. Reportedly, Valdez later said he would have killed his aunt, too, had she been home.

Three teenagers were murdered by intruders in 1881

One of the most terrible crimes committed during the Christmas season didn't even happen in the 20th century. In the wee hours of Christmas Eve, 1881 in Ashland, Kentucky, Emma Carico was staying with her friends and next-door neighbors, Robert and Fannie Gibbons, according to Sword and Scale. All three were young adults, still in their teens, and enjoyed one another's company. With Emma's mom just next door, it seemed like a perfectly safe night away from home.

At some point between December 23 and December 24, though, something horrible happened. Three men carrying axes burst into the home and savagely murdered the trio. As if that weren't enough, they set the house on fire, too. Emma Carico's mother saw the flames from next door and called for help. The ax-wielding men had fled, and in the remains of the fire, the townspeople found the charred bodies of Emma and the Gibbons.

No definitive motive was ever discovered for the crime, but a man named George Ellis did confess, implicating his two partners, William Neal and Ellis Craft. All three were locked up in a secure location due to fears that a lynch mob might come and kill them. A year later, Neal and Craft were sentenced to hang and Ellis to life in prison. But this time, the lynch mob did come for Ellis, and he was killed the night of his conviction.

Three were killed in a store parking lot by a stranger

Gianni Belvedere was talking to his cousin on the phone, waiting in the parking lot of a Macy's in Mission Valley, California. It was the early hours of Christmas Eve morning, 2013, and Gianni had come to pick up his fiancée, Ilona Flint, who worked there. At the time, Macy's was staying open extra late to cater to last minute shoppers. 

As Gianni was waiting, a man approached, shot and killed him, then stole his car, according to NBC San Diego. The man, Carlo Mercado, drove Gianni's car to his own house, even filling it with gas, but soon came back to Macy's for his motorcycle, which had broken down nearby.

Once there, Mercado encountered Flint and Gianni's brother Sal, who were searching for him. They saw Gianni's car, but quickly realized it wasn't him driving. Mercado killed them both. Police later arrested Mercado and expected to hear some sort of explanation for the shootings, but there wasn't one — Mercado had never met them. There was a theory that Gianni's murder was tied to a road rage incident, but this was never confirmed and Mercado wouldn't comment. Authorities ended up declaring the killings a "random act of violence."

There's been more than one murderer who dressed as Santa Claus

There are a number of horror movies, often of questionable quality, set around Christmas time and featuring a killer in a Santa Claus outfit. But that's just fiction, right? Mostly, yes, but it has happened on at least two occasions, and neither was a silly, over-the-top bit of B-horror shlock. Instead, both were sobering and tragic instances of domestic violence.

On December 24, 2008, the Ortega family of Covina, California was sitting down for Christmas Eve dinner and enjoying family time, according to Oxygen. That's when Bruce Pardo, ex-husband of Sylvia Ortega, showed up. Pardo, wielding multiple firearms, immediately began firing at his former in-laws, all while dressed as Santa Claus. When he was done with this monstrous act, he used a home-made flamethrower to burn the Ortega's house to the ground. In all, nine members of the Ortega family, including Pardo's ex-wife, were dead by gunshot or fire. Pardo committed suicide at his brother's home hours later.

Three years later, in a suburb of Dallas, Texas on Christmas Day, a man named Aziz Yazdanpanah arrived at the home where his estranged wife and two children were staying, according to CBS News. They were opening presents when Yazdanpanah burst in dressed as Santa and fatally shot his family and three other relatives. He then turned the gun on himself. In both his and Pardo's cases, strained familial relationships were noted as the motive behind the crimes.

Black activists were killed in their own home by white supremacists

The early Civil Rights movement was fraught with danger. Speaking up against oppression against Black people when there were far fewer voices echoing yours meant you were always a target, like Harry and Harriette Moore, a married couple from Florida who counted themselves among the loudest voices of the early 1950s.

At home in Mims, Florida to celebrate Christmas on December 25, 1951, the Moores didn't expect anything unusual. Of course, that's when the worst things tend to happen. It was not only Christmas, but also their 25th wedding anniversary, and they celebrated with their young daughter. But tragedy struck that night. A bomb placed under the floorboards of their home detonated, killing both Harry and Harriette, but sparing their daughter, who was in another part of the house when the bomb exploded, according to History.

Who would be so cruel to commit a terrorist act on Christmas? The Ku Klux Klan, of course, hoping to silence the Moores. It wasn't even a mystery. Police figured it out pretty quickly, but unfortunately, were unable to arrest the perpetrators before their deaths. Two of the suspects died of natural causes within a year, while a third committed suicide after being interviewed twice by the FBI. The Klan made a big mistake, though — killing the Moores only empowered the Civil Rights movement, lighting a fire under the cause and spawning numerous protests and nationwide anger toward the murderers.

A teenager was tortured to death after being accused of witchcraft

During the holiday season of 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu and his four siblings left Paris to stay at the home of their oldest sister, Magalie, who lived in London, according to the BBC. It seemed like a lovely family get-together during the Christmas season. But things got out of control fast, and Kristy died on Christmas Day. This was merely the tragic end of his long ordeal, though, and the things leading up to his death were pure horror.

Magalie Bamu, 29, had taken up with a boyfriend, Eric Bikubi, and the two shared an apartment together. Things seemed normal at first, but an unknown incident caused Eric to accuse Magalie's siblings of performing kindoki, a type of witchcraft purported to be practiced by evildoers in their home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While he initially pointed fingers at all of Magalie's siblings, he soon focused specifically on Kristy.

This began a days-long nightmare where Kristy was tortured with knives, pliers, and, grotesquely, a hammer and chisel. Eric claimed to be trying to exorcise Kristy, and all the while, his sister Magalie stood by and did nothing. Eric eventually drowned Kristy in the bathtub. In the aftermath, Eric claimed that he had brain damage that caused him to believe Kristy was a witch. Magalie denied any belief in witchcraft, making her inaction even more horrifying. Both were sentenced to life in prison for the crime.

A young mother was murdered in front of her child

Also on December 25, 2010, across the globe in Los Angeles, California, another horror was unfolding. Kashmier James, a 25-year-old nurse, was visiting a friend for Christmas with her 3-year-old daughter Niveah, in tow, according to L.A. Weekly. After spending some time with loved ones, Kashmier and Niveah got back into the car, with Niveah placed in a car seat in back. Kashmier was climbing into the driver's seat when three males pulled up next to her and murdered her in a drive-by shooting.

Niveah was unharmed but saw the whole thing. At a press conference where police announced a search for the killers, someone passed Niveah a microphone, where she heartbreakingly asked the crowd to, "please help [her] mommy." Police did eventually track down the killers and brought them to justice, but what they found out in the process was even more terrible.

The murderers were 16-year-olds participating in a gang killing, but that's not the horrifying part — they killed Kashmier James by mistake. They had misidentified her as their intended victim. She had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so a young child's mother was violently killed in front of her on Christmas — all based on a mistaken identity and some very unfortunate timing.

A three-day killing spree took place over Christmas

Christmas Eve, 1992 was just the beginning of a multi-day crime spree committed in Dayton, Ohio that included murder and robbery. Things started relatively small, but quickly spiraled out of control until December 26, 1992, when the perpetrators were finally caught, according to the Dayton Daily News. It began with Marvallous Keene, 19, his girlfriend Laura Taylor, 16, and their friend Heather Matthews, 20. The three planned to rob an associate, Joseph Wilkerson.

After breaking into Wilkerson's home and tying him up, Keene and Taylor found a gun in the home and used it to kill the man they were only there to rob. This was the inciting event that seemed to instill a bloodlust in the three. They added DeMarcus Smith, 17, to their group and began joy-killing strangers, such as Danita Gullete, who was merely talking on a payphone when the group came across her and killed her in cold blood.

Taylor and Matthews both called their ex-boyfriends, escalating to attacking people known to them. One was injured when Matthews shot him, the other was executed by Taylor while the man was driving, requiring Taylor to dive out of the moving vehicle before it crashed. The crew ended things by killing two friends who the group thought might implicate them. The four were apprehended the following morning, December 26. Taylor, Matthews, and Smith are serving life sentences. Keene was executed in 2009. He had no final words.

Ronald Gene Simmons murdered his whole family and then some

On December 22, 1987, Dover, Arkansas resident Ronald Gene Simmons began making phone calls to his children, arranging for them to come visit him with their own families over the holidays. While this would be wholesome under ordinary circumstances, Simmons had something very disturbing in mind, according to All That's Interesting.

Over the next several days, as his children and their families arrived at previously scheduled times, Simmons began methodically killing each group as they showed up. This bloody work took four days, and by December 26, Simmons had killed 14 members of his own family, lining their bodies up in neat rows. One of his victims was a daughter he had sexually abused for years, and had even given birth to a child sired by Simmons — this information becoming public is believed to have been a motivating factor in the crimes. On December 27, Simmons merely sat at home, drinking beer and watching TV.

December 28 saw him back at his rampage, though. He travelled to the nearby town of Russellville. He visited his old workplaces, killing two and wounding four. He also stopped to murder a woman who had recently rejected his advances. At his last stop, Simmons simply sat and waited for police to arrive after his deeds, chatting with workers there. He was found guilty, sentenced to death, and executed by lethal injection less than three years later, on June 25, 1990.